InFocus: Jaime Castañeda – CEO 99 SB Investment

29/04/2024

Continuing Simon’s passion for opulent cuisine and lifestyle dining, he spoke with Jaime Castañeda, CEO of 99 SB Investment, one of the most chic and exciting Japanese restaurant collections on the global stage.

Jaime Castañeda is a CEO whose progressive talent has served world-leading international hotels and hospitality companies.

At the helm of Ninety Nine Investment L.L.C., Jaime leads a thriving F&B group established in the UAE and with the firm ambition to expand globally.

The Spanish national’s strong business acumen is to thank for new exclusive addresses opening in Monte Carlo and London in 2024. His strong sense of innovation has paved the way for an exciting sister brand called KO, set to launch at an iconic location in Madrid, as well as within a much-loved Abu Dhabi landmark this year, and also in the heart of a vibrant Dubai community in 2026.

Tell us about the 99 Sushi Bar brand and your vision for the future?

99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant in itself is an exceptional brand. For 2 decades, the concept has improved its excellent standards over and over again, in terms of gastronomy, service and comfort, whilst staying true to the strength of its original DNA. In an ever-changing world, where the culinary offering has become over-competitive, this longevity is something to be proud of. 99 is not a trend, it is well on its way to becoming an institution for haute Japanese cuisine enthusiasts. Over the years, we have earned multiple awards, first in Spain, where 99 was born and now in the UAE, where the restaurant has found renewed ambitions entering the famous MICHELIN and Gault & Millau guides, with 1 Star and 1 Toque for our Abu Dhabi location. This has been achieved thanks to the dedication of passionate team, who live and breathe 99, something that is quite unique, too. We have managed to work as a family and to stand by one another as such, and that is truly an unbeatable feeling and satisfaction.

It’s exciting to see the launch of the sister brand Ko in Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort – talk us through the decision to take a different route from the 99 Sushi brand for this opening?

With KO, we wanted to diversify our expanding group’s revenue streams, making our outstanding cuisine available to a broader audience, without bastardising the brand. KO is an elegant, high-end concept, with a relaxed elegance about it. Though we are still honouring our legacy of fine cuisine, we wanted guests to experience it in a more care-free fashion, in a destination that takes on airs of a speak-easy, with a more carnivorous food selection and a large selection of finger-food… and of course, that view over the Empty Quarter, at a hotel that has truly become a regional landmark.

 

99 Sushi Bar is now an international brand with sites all over the world. What do you look for when selecting new sites to launch? 

 

Now that was the perfect transition, wouldn’t you say so? The first rule of marketing is: “location, location, location”. What we look for, every time we set our hearts on a new city, is finding beautiful locations indeed, in catchment areas that fit the brand. Other than the obvious adaptability of the space, what truly matters is finding that gem, that hotspot, that tells the tale of a city. In Dubai, we gaze in the eyes of Burj Khalifa, in Abu Dhabi, it’s Al Maryah Island, the foodie destination of the capital city. Qasr al Sarab, as explained earlier, is an icon. And our other projects coming up in Madrid and Monaco are no exception. 99 is where the world dreams to be, where people of higher taste expect their desires to be anticipated.

 

What’s the future for the 99 Sushi Bar footprint? Are there markets you’re not yet in that you’re excited to explore?

As the custodian of this brand, I want to keep pushing towards the higher end. We want to redefine luxury in a world where it shines brighter and brighter every day. We want to offer what is rare, expertly crafted and truly unique. We do what we are and that is professionals in gastronomy. Every year, the international scene witnesses new economic and geo-political challenges, which impact consumerism. However, luxury always stands proud, because human nature always yearns for the exceptional.

 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the luxury Japanese restaurant scene in recent years? And where do you think it is heading?

Japanese cuisine used to be this exotic art, entirely devoted to perfect ingredients and time-honoured techniques guarded by the sushi masters of traditional times. Then it was massively vulgarized through the “fast-fooding” of sushi and maki, so that now, haute Japanese cuisine has become revered again. More and more clients are educated to this higher expression of culinary and have acquired very discerning palates. And this has led to a massive development at a gastronomic level, making the competition fierce, indeed.

But I think that more and more, people will sacrifice their all-to-frequent order at the random sushi chain and privilege the once-in-a-lifetime dinner at an outstanding venue. I also think that Japanese fusion, which used to be so big, has shifted to a comeback of a more traditional take on this particular cuisine, with a “back-to-basics” approach. That is why we have re-introduced dishes such as the chawan mushi, for example, a delicious forgotten classic.

 

When you’re hiring in new markets, what’s your approach to ensure you’re getting the best talent for your brand?

We are fortunate to have several restaurants in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East, thus our network of talents has gone strong. Having earned so many accolades, our reputation, too is growing, and talented professionals respect 99 as a brand that would propel them on their path in F&B. We use recommended digital tools of course, but nothing beats recommendations and natural interest in the brand.

About

Simon Dallyn

Associate Director